Thursday, September 22, 2011

2 Samuel 18: The Web of Sin

Today's chapter in 2 Samuel is a tragic one. David's men fight against Absalom, and it ends with Joab killing Absalom. So despite explicit instructions from David, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom," he mourns at the end, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

The sequence of events can be traced to David's earlier failings, and they're all related to David's passivity. Even men after God's own heart are not perfect. David sacrificed his moral integrity for political expediency.

The first problem is that David did not bring Joab to justice when he murdered Abner, "And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother" (2 Samuel 3:27). Abner killed Asahel in battle, within the rules of war, but Joab murdered Abner in premeditated revenge. David did not punish Joab for this sin, so Joab was still the commander of David's army. Perhaps David feared Joab or thought he was an irreplaceable commander. David's rationalization does not excuse Joab's sin.

The second problem came when David failed to act yet again. Amnon, David's son, raped his half-sister Tamar. "When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry" (2 Samuel 13:21), but he did not lift a finger. Absalom was Tamar's full brother, both born of Maacah. When David did not execute justice on behalf of Tamar, Absalom took justice into his own hands two years later by killing his own brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-33).

The third problem is a complex assortment of scheming by both Joab and Absalom. Absalom fled, but again David threw his arms up and did nothing. Through the actions of Joab and Absalom, who were not on great terms with each other (2 Samuel 14:30), Absalom returned to Jerusalem and grew a heart that despised his father and lusted after power. So Absalom won the hearts of the Israelites, conspired a coup and warred to finish off David [2 Samuel 14-17].

David's men were mightier and won the war, but Joab purposely killed Absalom in the forest in a less than honorable fashion:
And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on... And [Joab] took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him. [2 Samuel 18:9,14-15]
Sin has consequences, and often one sin leads to a chain of others, even when (perhaps especially when) it's refusing to do what's right via non-action. There are many things David could have done differently so that neither he nor Absalom had to die.

A final point of reflection is that God can and does use all of the actions of men (good and bad) to accomplish his purposes. In a complex plot that even Shakespeare couldn't invent, God used the royal drama to fulfill two plans.
  1. Absalom was the the instrument of punished against David that Nathan promised in 2 Samuel 12:11.
  2. God brought justice to Absalom for his sin against Amnon and David while being God's agent: 2 Samuel 17:14.
This ends up being a microcosm of the issues Israel struggled with during the exile, that God would use a sin-overflowing, evil, pagan nations to punish his chosen people.

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